Council tax for Fire service to freeze

Flood evacuation practice at Stoke Goldington'''Wk 10 MPMC
Flood evacuation practice at Stoke Goldington'''Wk 10 MPMC

The coming year’s council tax to pay for Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is to remain at this year’s level.

Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority voted unanimously for the proposal at its meeting today. The band D charge for the financial year starting on April 1 will remain at £59.13, or about £1.14 a week.

Members set a budget for 2012/13 of £28.4 million, which is £1 million less than the current year’s.

They were given the option of freezing council tax for a second successive year and accepting a one-off government grant payment of £532,000 in lieu of a council tax rise, or increasing the precept by 3.9 per cent.

The additional revenue of about £691,000 from the 3.9 per cent increase would have carried forward into future years’ budgets, whereas the one-off grant payment will not.

Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones said: “Councillors considered the options and asked us to manage with fewer resources so as not to unduly burden taxpayers who are already hard-hit.

“My senior managers have shown flair and some ingenuity in seeking ways to work better in future. The result is that, despite budget reductions, we will ensure that vital safety services in emergency response are not affected.

“However, continued council tax freezes, with the seemingly likely continued grant reductions from the government, might have a detrimental impact upon our ability to provide the same level of service in the future.”

Councillor Andy Dransfield, lead member on financial affairs, said: “We took this step in recognition of the tough times people are enduring as we didn’t want to add to the hardship they already face.

“While Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority accounts for only a very small proportion of the council tax bill paid by households – about 4p in every £1 - we have worked hard to ensure that we can freeze the tax this year.”

Plans to reduce costs by moving the fire control room from Aylesbury to a partnership in Cambridgeshire were announced last year. The organisation has also reduced the number of back-room staff and senior managers, and is currently considering how to balance a reduction in firefighter numbers with minimal impact on emergency response by not replacing those who retire.

Councillor David Rowlands, Chairman of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority, said: “We saw what was coming and started to reduce our costs almost two years ago.

“As a result, we saved over £1.5 million last year and we are on target for a further saving of over £500,000 this year. This has not been without some difficult changes for the service, but the managers have worked hard to adopt new practices.

“I will be writing to the government to identify the difficulties that we may face if further grant reductions are announced.

“I would like to pay tribute to all of the men and women who work tirelessly to make people safer in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. Thanks to their dedication and efforts, this will continue to be a high-performing service despite budget restrictions.”

Council tax bills in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, which will be sent out next month, will include the following totals to pay for Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service in 2012/13: Band A £39.42, B £45.99, C £52.56, D £59.13, E £72.27, F £85.41, G £98.55, H £118.26.